The Schweitzer solution

Paul Schweitzer at his desk at Gramercy Typewriter Co. Photo: Dan Whateley

How an 86-year-old typewriter-repair company in the Flatiron District is attracting a new generation of customers who grew up on computers

By Dan Whateley

Paul Schweitzer is not into modern technology. “I actually have no desire, no need for it,” he said.

Sitting at his shop desk in between a landline phone and an IBM electric typewriter, Schweitzer says he doesn’t use a smartphone or computer and prefers a fax machine for sending documents.

Schweitzer, 79, owns Gramercy Typewriter Co., a shop in the Flatiron District that has been selling and repairing typewriters since 1932. According to Schweitzer, many of their customers in recent years are younger people who grew up with computers.

“We sell typewriters every day. And most of these portable manual typewriters and electric typewriters are sold to the younger people,” he said. “And I’m saying younger people from 10 years old and up.”

“They’ll consider the color, the style, the weight of a machine, and they’ll try to fit one to their needs,” he said. According to Schweitzer, typewriters that come in a color other than black often draw in shoppers.

When entering Gramercy Typewriter Co.’s fourth-floor shop, you hear the whirring of an electric analog clock and notice the faint smell of oil that Schweitzer uses to service the machines. Across the room from Schweitzer’s desk is a lineup of vintage typewriters waiting to be serviced or purchased. A light grayish-green Hermes Ambassador stands out amidst three rows of classic black Royal, Underwood and Remington typewriters.

Nina Boutsikaris, 31, visited Gramercy Typewriter Co. on Valentine’s Day this year, receiving a new typewriter as a gift from her boyfriend. She describes her typewriter as “cute and compact,” with a “nice cool tone color scheme” and “an easy light touch to the keys.”

Boutsikaris, an essayist and writing professor at Eugene Lang College, says she uses her typewriter as a collaborative daily diary. “It sits on the console by the front door next to a vase of paper. When we pass by it, we type up the date and add some news, personal things,” she said. “It’s become a poem, a time capsule, an art project.”

Boutsikaris said her boyfriend first discovered Gramercy Typewriter Co. after learning that Academy Award winner Tom Hanks was a frequent visitor to the shop.

“Mr. Hanks is a typewriter collector,” Schweitzer said. “Over the years he had come for repairs of some of his equipment,” he noted. “Whenever he has time he can stop in and purchase a machine here or there.”

Typewriters are one of several vintage items that have seen a resurgence in New York City in recent years. Charles Hutchinson, a record buyer at nearby Academy Records and CDs on 18th Street, says demand for vinyl records among young people has increased since he started working at the shop nine years ago.

“There’s a variety of different record players that are available now,” Hutchinson told Straus News in a recent phone interview. “There are options for people across the board in terms of price range and quality.”

Hutchinson thinks young people are buying typewriters and playing records as an alternative to internet or computer-based entertainment. “Certainly it would seem to be a reaction against, you know, the intangible aspects of the online world,” he said. “Downloads and streaming are pretty disposable, whereas if you’ve got the original album, and if it’s an old copy, it’s a used copy that’s 50 years old, you feel like you’re in some sense in touch with the history of it.”

The Gramercy Typewriter Co. is itself a part of New York City history. Located on Fifth Avenue in an area of Manhattan once crowded with publishing houses, Paul Schweitzer’s father, Abraham Schweitzer, founded the business in 1932. At various times, Abraham employed between five and seven service workers who would fix typewriters in law offices, book publishers and accounting firms throughout the city.

Today, Paul runs the business with his son, Jay Schweitzer, and one additional employee who helps with service work. He still does on-site visits to offices in the city, mostly working on laser printers. “I take my tool bag and every day we go out and I go from office to office repairing and doing the service work on the printers.”

When asked about business competitors in Manhattan, Schweitzer says most office equipment dealers that offer typewriter services have shifted to fixing photocopy machines and computers. “As far as the typewriter is concerned, I think we’re just about the last of the ones who want to do this type of work,” he said.